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To evaluate and critically asses the role of the right to self-defence in an evolving landscape


‘The doctrine of self-defence, as defined by the UN Charter and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), is no longer fit for the challenges of the twenty-first century and should be abandoned.’

With reference to sources of international law, critically evaluate the above statement in light of the principles of use of force, collective self-defence and the challenges posed by terrorism.


The question gives you the opportunity to discuss the issue of whether the right of self-defence (its purpose and rationale) – the way it is framed with the UN Charter’s Article 2(4) restrictions on the use of force, as elaborated by the ICJ – is still fit for the evolving system of the twenty-first century.

When writing your answer we expect you to consider the development of the right to self-defence: its evolution with respect to the creation of the United Nations and the system of collective security through the UN Security Council; the end of the two-power-block dynamic after the Cold War; and the rise of non-state armed groups and failed states as threats to the security of a state and its citizens. In addition, you should consider the right to self-defence in light of humanitarian considerations and the protection of the individual under international law.

In your answer, you should compare and contrast the responses of the international community to a variety of situations, assessing their appropriateness and effectiveness. It is crucial that you demonstrate the ability to research and apply both primary and secondary sources in your essay. You may refer to a variety of sources, including international treaties, case law and academic commentary. It is important to demonstrate that you can use legal reasoning and research to back up your assessment on whether or not the right of self-defence continues to be fit for purpose.

The topics of use of force, collective and individual self-defence, the protection of individuals, and the R2P principle should be a good starting point for answering this TMA question.

Essay must demonstrate the following outcomes;

  • to evaluate and critically asses the role of the right to self-defence in an evolving landscape
  • to assess current and emerging legal and international issues and developments
  • to formulate an opinion, based on evidence, for a specialist and non-specialist audience
  • to undertake independent learning and research

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